By John P. Huston, Chicago Tribune reporter
6:19 PM EDT, June 18, 2013
Daniel Easterday knows what he'll do if he hears an intruder during the night in the Highland Park home he shares with his wife and young child — first call the police, then grab one of his guns.
"If something happened to them and I had not given myself every possible tool to prevent it from happening, I would feel very guilty," Easterday said.
He doesn't want anyone to take away his semi-automatic rifle with a 30-round magazine, which would be his weapon of choice during a break-in.
Highland Park is one of several Illinois towns looking to use its home rule authority to ban assault weapons — like the popular AR-15 — drawing the ire of Easterday and several other guns rights advocates across the region.
When state legislators recently approved a bill to allow legal owners to carry concealed handguns, they included a passage that allows home rule communities to enforce local assault weapons bans — even if the bans were created up to 10 days after the governor's signature on House Bill 183, otherwise known as the Firearm Concealed Carry Act.
Gov. Pat Quinn has until July 9 to sign the bill, which sets the clock ticking for towns like Highland Park, Deerfield, Lake Forest and others who want to exercise local control over the issue, but don't already have local ordinances.
State Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, recently convened a summit with municipal elected officials and law enforcement members for them "to understand the tight deadlines and the Draconian consequences of doing nothing."
According to Drury, cities like Highland Park need to get an assault weapons ordinance on the books within the allotted time frame, after which they can amend it to be either more or less restrictive. Otherwise, they'd lose the ability to impose restrictions or regulations forever.
He's also unmoved by a recent outpouring opposition to local gun control.
"Sometimes there are squeaky wheels, but I am confident that in our neck of the woods the majority of people are in favor of responsible gun legislation, which would include strong regulations on assault weapons," Drury said.
The Highland Park City Council will discuss a local assault weapons ordinance on June 24, and the wording is modeled after Cook County's ban, according to Steve Elrod, the city's corporation counsel.
Cook County's ban has already withstood legal challenges, Elrod said.
"I'd say Illinois municipalities are looking at the county ordinance because of that history," he said.
Cook County's ban gave owners 90 days to remove the illegal weapons from Cook County, modify them or surrender them to the Sheriff's Department.
But gun advocates, like Easterday, say they are ready to challenge any local bans.
"If they pass it, we will sue," Easterday said. "We will punish them."
Mike Weisman, Second Vice President of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said that of Chicago's more than 500 homicides in 2012, only one was committed with a rifle.
"That's really not worth dragging out the whole legal team to make these things illegal," he said.
Deerfield Mayor Harriet Rosenthal, a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition — co-founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino — was early to involve her village with considering a ban, but less inclined to put it to the test.
"We're not interested in getting involved in lawsuits," Rosenthal said in an interview.
When a possible assault weapons ban came up for public discussion at a June 17 public meeting, Deerfield officials threw a curveball at a large gathering of firearms enthusiasts who packed the village's Council Chamber. Rather than discussing a ban, as originally discussed, the proposed Deerfield ordinance only called for storage and transportation regulations on assault weapons, as outlined in the Cook County ordinance.
The village board took comments from the public for nearly an hour, which began with some bewildered — yet generally supportive — opinions from gun owners who arrived ready to discuss a ban. But the tone of the audience soon escalated into a feeling of distrust and skepticism.
"This is a stalking horse for future regulation," said Deerfield resident Larry Nordal. "You wish to keep the door open so that in the future you may ban firearms, and you list those in this regulation."
"We are not trying to be underhanded," responded Rosenthal. "We are not saying we are discussing this tonight and next week we're going to ban firearms. We have no intention of doing that."
However, officials admitted the ordinance — if passed — could be later amended.
"It's all done very open," said Trustee Alan Farkas. "So yes, there may be changes to any ordinance on our books, and it will all be done in an open manner. We've done our best as your neighbors, as your elected officials. We're not your enemies. Nobody's trying to take anything away from you. Nobody's trying to harm you, your families, or destroy the Constitution."
Several people argued there isn't a gun violence problem in Deerfield, and that assault weapons regulations wouldn't prevent shooting massacres like those in Newtown, Conn. or Aurora, Colo.
The same argument is used in Highland Park, as well.
"Highland Park doesn't really have a lot of gun crime," resident and firearms owner Kevin Vignocchi said in an interview. "It's not really an issue in town. I imagine if anything were to happen it wouldn't be anything from someone in town, anyway. It'd be from someone coming from out of town."
But in his remarks to the Deerfield Village Board, State Rep. Drury evoked the recent murder of Highland Park resident Colin Nutter. Authorities believe Nutter was shot by Highwood resident Benjamin Schenk during a drug-related robbery.
"Our communities are not beyond the violence that we read about in the city, that we read about in the papers from across the state or across the world," Drury said. "And if we give up the right to control our local communities, what's next?"
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